Yesterday was Tisha B’Av the Ninth day of Av on the Hebrew Calendar.  Known as the saddest day  in Judaism; believed to be the day both the First and Second Jewish Temples fell , but also has become  the time to mourn all the other tragedies the Jewish people have endured, many also occurring or starting  on Tisha B’Av.

On Tisha B’Av all Jews are to “wail as a woman wails when delivering birth for the first time”.  The theme  of the teaching is trying to answer the why that almost always accompanies tragedy?  The answer most often taught?Turning away from the law as taught in Torah usually because of both an oppressor’s threat, but also because of the better life  that often awaited converts.

Jews do not seek converts and indeed, wonder why anyone would want to become a Jew given both the oppression Jews have faced.  The added burden of observing far more laws to gain G-d’s favor also makes Jews wonder why any one wants to join the tribe.  Sadly, that also plays a part in today’s tendency for many to turn to secularism; for many secularism  is easier and more  attractive than observance.

Also faulted was the sin of gossip,  what the Jews call lashon hara or speaking with an evil tongue.  As one commentator, Dovid Rosenfeld, said  discussing the story of Miriam, Moshe’s sister,  which is part of the teachings for the day:

Let me finally bring this issue to a head. All of this sheds light on the true evil of lashon hara. The issue is not whether my criticism is right or wrong. It may very well be correct. What is truly wrong, however, is judging another human being based on my own standards and perspective. The reason Miriam felt “qualified” to criticize Moses is because she failed to recognize his greatness. He’s a prophet and she’s a prophetess. He has no right acting any differently than she! “That” is the root of lashon hara. Once we impute our own standards on someone else, we will never see him in his differences favorably. If “I” do not do that why should he? Who does she think “she” is acting differently? The reason we do not accept others for whom they are, even going so far as to speak against them, is because we fail to see them on their proper light.

Also somewhere in the teachings  another thought was highlighted, that many who  condemned the Jews were fellow Jews.  Some were practicing Jews, but most  were Jews who had converted.  Often, those who converted to the religion of the dominant culture were more filled with hate against their one time brethren than the dominant oppressors.   That, of course, also relates to lauson hara, for they spoke evil of the Jews, but also spoke to me of something else–fanaticism and conversion.

I am a convert.  I call myself a wanderer who finally found a home in Judaism.  Raised in a nonreligious home, to my father’s horror, I joined the Presbyterian church in my teens.  His horror was that he had to darken the church with his presence, he joked, “Hope lightening doesn’t strike.”  He was agnostic, not an atheist.

My mother was more Quaker (The Religious Society of Friends) than anything, she was a graduate of Friends Central High School.  However, I don’t remember her attending Meeting at anytime during my childhood.  Moreover, no one in her family talked about faith or religion.

When the Presbyterian church failed me–by not treating a childhood friend who they thought had sinned with compassion–I eventually found a temporary home among the Quakers.  Then I met David and after we married I converted.  My conversion was by an  Orthodox Rabbi.   For a while I was super observant.

Almost all converts see their past religion as a whirlpool waiting to suck them in again. The cognitive theorists Leon Festinger and Jerome Kagan  would say thoughts of the past religions  create uncertainty.  Both view resolving uncertainty as a major source of human motivation and too often finding release by blaming someone.  The Jews and Christians refusal to see Mohammed as a prophet is thought by many to have fueled his hatred of both groups and his jihad on non-believers.

Well, I don’t know about all, but for a while I wouldn’t even send season greetings or Hannuka cards, too much like Christmas Cards.  Then I became more comfortable finding a middle road.  Now, I am observant enough for David, but no necessarily for many others who are more observant.

I comfort myself by trying to live a life of kindness and compassion–what some call living Torah.  The Rabbi who converted me, said as he welcomed me into the tribe, “I have taught you the law.  It is now between you and G-d how your obey them.  I do keep kosher in my home and observe the Shabbat.

All this to say,  my experiences have  put me somewhat in touch with how  those  who have found one religion unsatisfactory and then embrace another are particularly vulnerable.  Feeling betrayed by the old religion or guilty at leaving it behind for personal gain creates a need to justify the new.   Being confronted by those who stayed with the old causes pain and uncertainty. In violent times, the pain and uncertainty can justify attacks on the religion you left behind.

I like the story of Miriam, she was punished for gossiping about her brother Moses; the punishment was lifted, but the message stands.  Miriam criticized her brother without really thinking about how his life differed from her, particularly his relationship to G-d.  The lesson; a person’s religion and relationship with G-d is no one else’s concern; we in this world should be concerned about our behavior and be slow to judge another.  Earthly laws were created so human behavior could be judged by our fellow  man, and while far from perfect, most of the world agrees that murder, physical assault,  and theft are the sins we should take action against, not who believes or worships what G-d, Higher Power, Goddess or none of those.  If we could do that peace would have a chance.

Share, care, and stay strong.

Agree or disagree, comments are always welcomed.

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